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Review: Project Fi, son of Google Voice

Everything you should know about Project Fi to save time & money, improve reception while gaining flexibility.

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I became a heavy user of Google Voice many years ago. I even ported my mobile phone number there. My first book way back in 2011 was about Google Voice. Last year in 2015, Google announced what I call Google Voice’s “son”, Project Fi. As soon as I received my invitation to use Project Fi, I immediately ported my number from Google Voice to Project Fi, two different departments in Google. Ten of my clients followed shortly thereafter. We all love it, for many reasons: We save time; we save money; we get improved reception (home and abroad) and increased flexibility.

A very brief summary of Google Voice, Project Fi’s “father”

Google Voice logo

In addition to being the topic of my very first book back in 2011 (which I no longer recommend since it has become obsolete), I also covered Google Voice in at least one article here in ProVideo Coalition magazine in 2010.

Google Voice continues to be a potentially free telephone service from Google. Google Voice can provide you with a “master phone number” which can ring simultaneously on one or many other phone numbers. More recently, your Google Voice number can also be used to make and receive calls on your computer, tablet (Android, iPad or even iPod Touch) officially (without the need of any third-party workarounds). On your computer, you can make and receive Google Voice calls on your Gmail page or from the Hangouts plugin. On Android, iPad or even iPod Touch, you can do it with the free Hangouts app (which can also accomplish many other things). When you use the Gmail page on your computer or the Hangouts app to make or receive phone calls using your Google Voice number, Google Voice uses data, either from WiFi or cellular data. When you use the official Google Voice app on your Android or iPhone to make an outgoing phone call (rather than using the Hangouts app), Google Voice uses mainly voice call minutes, not cellular data, except for a tiny drop of metadata at the very beginning of an outgoing call.

Caution: Please only use that official Google Voice app from within the US. Otherwise you’ll end up paying more for the same call made from outside the US! If you are traveling outside the US (and do not yet use Project Fi), and want to make a call with your Google Voice number, please use the Hangouts app or the Gmail page in your computer. Of course, this gets much better and simpler once you use Project Fi, as you’ll see ahead in this article.

Is Google Voice completely free?
So far, during its existence under that name, Google Voice has been and continues to be free to call the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. If you want a new phone number from Google Voice, that’s free. If you want to port your existing phone number to Google Voice, there is a one-time US$20 fee. If you want to make phone calls to outside the US, Puerto Rico or Canada, there are extremely low prices per minute, depending upon the destination. The last time I checked (before I switched from Google Voice to Project Fi), Google Voice was still incapable of sending outgoing SMS messages to Puerto Rico (even though it can voice calls to Puerto Rico free) or of sending SMS to any foreign country (even though Google Voice can indeed call other countries at extremely attractive prices). Despite those SMS limitations, Google Voice has always been able to receive SMS from anywhere, and that’s free. All of those SMS limitations are completely solved with Project Fi, as you’ll read ahead in this article.

Although Google may end up deprecating the actual Google Voice app (which is actually a good idea), the Google Voice service is still quite alive, despite rumors to the contrary. Many of Google Voice’s features are also inherited by its “son”, Project Fi. However, before we close this brief summary about Google Voice, I will clarify that Google Voice never included its own “over the air” signal. Google Voice needs to piggyback itself onto WiFi, cellular data and/or (at least originally) to a standard phone service. Now Project Fi (aka son of Google Voice) does include its own “over the air” signal, thanks to its other “parents” as you’ll see ahead in this article.

Voicemail: good but could be better

Both Google Voice and its “son”, Project Fi, offer a voicemail which offers features like the option of a special outgoing message for certain contacts, and fairly good transcription of voicemail messages (as long as they are in English). Sometimes, when the voicemail message is in a language other than English, a message appears stating that no transcription is available. Occasionally, the system types out nonsensical sentences filled with English words, and sometimes they are hilarious to read. I am surprised Google hasn’t added transcription of Castilian voicemail messages, since the Castilian voice-to-text on Android is nearly perfect. My chief pet peeve with the voicemail system in both Google Voice and Project Fi is the lack of the capability of uploading a high-quality WAVE, AAC, or MP3 file for outgoing messages, which is something that’s available by at least two third-party voicemail systems I have used. I have requested this feature both for Google Voice and for Project Fi.

Project Fi and his three “parents”

As long as you are in the United States, Project Fi uses a combination of three different wireless networks: the closest WiFi (if the Project Fi app considers it to have sufficient quality), the Sprint network and the T-Mobile network. While on a phone call, your connection can instantly dance among all three networks without disconnecting or even producing any audible click.

The T-Mobile network used as one of the Project Fi service actually has much better coverage than most iPhone users have ever perceived, since all iPhones prior to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus (both released at the end of 2015) are missing T-Mobile band 12, which is the low-frequency one that works best in rural areas and inside buildings in cities. Most iPhone users who used a model prior to these latest ones never knew the their reception problem was really Apple’s fault, not T-Mobile’s fault (at least since T-Mobile started to implement band 12). Project Fi has taken advantage of Sprint’s network plus T-Mobile’s band 12 with the Nexus 6 (using Android 5 and later with Android 6.01) and with the newer Nexus 5x and Nexus 6P (starting with Android 6.01). Of course, Project Fi also takes advantage of T-Mobile’s other bands. Its just that it needed FCC approval to use band 12 with the newer Nexus models, which is why they needed to hold it back for political reasons until the update to Android 6.01. Users of the original 2014 Nexus 6 had T-Mobile band 12 with Android 5, lost it briefly with Android 6.0 for the same political reason, and then recovered it with Android 6.01. So be sure to have Android 6.01 (or later) installed with any of the mentioned Nexus phones.

 

How to pronounce Project Fi in English and in Castilian

At first, I wondered whether Google had named Project Fi either for the US Marines’ slogan Semper Fi which comes from Semper Fidelis… or perhaps from “Fee-fi-fo-fum” the first line of a historical quatrain (or sometimes couplet) famous for its use in the classic English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk:

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

It turned out to be neither of the two. Google named Project Fi for the second half of WiFi. In US English, WiFi is typically pronounced as wahy-fahy (English phonetic respelling). That’s how Google has handled its own pronunciation of Project Fi (fahy) (English phonetic respelling). When I am speaking in English, I pronounce it that way too.

In Iberian Castilian (commonly but inaccurately called “Spanish”), I know from personal experience that WiFi is pronounced as wee-fee (English phonetic respelling) and that’s the same way it’s pronounced in French (in France) according to friends who have been there. That’s also the way I pronounce it (when I’m speaking in Castilian), since mine is a self-created Unified Castilian for international use, which combines my selected terms, idiomatic expressions and pronunciations from multiple countries. In the Americas, most native Castilian speakers pronounce WiFi exactly as it is generally pronounced in US English. However, all of those who first heard about Project Fi through me have voluntarily and happily replicated my colloquial pronunciation of the total name in conversation: Proyecto Fi as fee (English phonetic respelling). They say they like the way it sounds when they are speaking in Castilian, and many of them have become happy users of the Project Fi service, together with one Spaniard so far, who lives in Miami, Florida, US.

The Project Fi radio requirement, and the current 3 qualifying models

So far, Google has approved three Nexus phone models for full-service use with Project Fi. As I have stated in prior articles, my absolute favorite Android phones have always been Nexus phones, for the following reasons:

  • Nexus phones get the pure Android experience, without censorship or modifications by manufacturers or carriers.
  • Nexus phones purchased directly from Google are always born as carrier-unlocked.
  • Nexus phones are generally the first of all Android phones to receive updates, directly from Google, over-the-air, without delays from manufacturers or carriers.

Google has stated publicly that eventually, they’ll approve any phone (even potentially a non-Android phone) for use with Project Fi, as long as it complies with the radio specifications that Google has published. Basically, they need to be able to tune into all of the particular bands from Sprint and T-Mobile, and be able to switch seamlessly and on-the-fly between those two and WiFi to create a smooth call experience even when switching. They must also be able to tune the frequencies used by all of the Project Fi parters in 120 countries. So eventually, we might even see a future iPhone 7 working officially and completely with Project Fi.

The three currently approved models for Project Fi are the original Nexus 6 (2014 model) which I currently use, and the two new 2015 models: Nexus 5x and Nexus 6P. All are very high rated my multiple reviewers, and soon I’ll be publishing the articles: Google Nexus 2015 camera sensors: larger than iPhone 6s Plus and Why Project Fi + Nexus beat any iPhone as a hotspot. If you live in the US and are credit-worthy, Project Fi will even sell you one of these new Nexus phones with 24-month interest-free financing when you sign up for Project Fi.

How hackers forced Project Fi onto iPhone before its time

At least one YouTube video shows a Project Fi user who couldn’t resist trying to install his previously-activated Project Fi SIM card into his iPhone. He got it to work, albeit haphazardly, since currently there is no Project Fi app on iOS, and the current radios in iPhones don’t comply completely. As a result, he got it to work only on the T-Mobile network.

This is not recommended until such time as there is an approved iPhone for Project Fi.

Project Fi’s pricing, explained

Project Fi costs US$20 for unlimited calls (to numbers in the US, Puerto Rico and Canada) and unlimited SMS texts (to worldwide numbers on Planet Earth), plus US$10 per gigabyte of actual consumed data. Whatever your initial estimate may be, if you use less data, you end up paying less. If you use more data, you’ll end up paying more.

Before I moved to Project Fi, my monthly data usage via cellular data was under 500 megabytes average per month, so I estimated the minimum of 1 GB when I signed up for Project Fi. I do not deprive myself of data: I simply set most of my apps only to upload or download when on WiFi. So the first month, I was billed based upon the 1 GB estimate: US$20 + US$10 = US$30 plus tax. From there forward, my bill has been about US$25 per month plus tax. With Project Fi, there is no extra charge if you use your phone to do tethering or a hotspot.

Calls from the US to countries outside Canada and Puerto Rico are exactly the same as they have been with Google Voice: extremely low, and with direct dial, as long as you have properly listed all phone numbers in your contacts in international format: the + symbol followed by the country code, city code (or mobile phone code) and number. This is something that I have been recommending for decades. (Never use 011 or 01 prefix, use the + symbol. It’s the international standard, and that’s why it works everywhere, with virtually any service.)

Project Fi when your’e traveling out of the United States

In 120 countries outside of the US, Project Fi users get data roaming at no extra charge. In other words, in those 120 countries, the data costs the same as in the US.

What about phone calls when traveling outside of the US? When you are connected to any capable WiFi anywhere in the world, calls to the US, Canada and Puerto Rico are free. When you are not connected to WiFi but are in one of the 120 Project Fi countries, calls are US$0.20 (twenty cents) per minute to anywhere. If you are outside those 120 countries, you must either use WiFI (which will be free) or purchase a local nano SIM card, and pay whatever the local rates may be. Remember that all Nexus phones purchased from Google are born as carrier-unlocked, so they will accept virtually any nano SIM card from virtually any provider worldwide.

Since signing up with Project Fi, I have personally used it in México, and some of my clients have used it in Argentina, Colombia, the United Kingdom and Venezuela.

Project Fi’s new data-only SIM card; its pros and cons

In mid December 2015, Google announced another amazing add-on to Project Fi which may be unprecedented: free data-only SIM cards without any per-device monthly fee. This means that any Project Fi user can request the free data-only SIM card to be used with any compatible device (tablet or computer, including some Chromebooks). In my experience, other carriers add an additional per-device monthly fee. Project Fi does not. Project Fi only charges for the extra data usage, if there is any. So if you own a tablet or laptop that accepts a nano SIM card, you can save your phone’s battery by not having to create a hotspot for that device. If you have a device that accepts a SIM card that’s not nano sized, you can use an inexpensive SIM card adapter.

Caution: Never, ever store an empty SIM card adapter inside of your device (without any SIM card inside of the adapter). Many people have permanently ruined their SIM slot by doing that.

To my knowledge, a tablet or computer using the data-only Project Fi SIM card will currently only work with the T-Mobile network, not the Sprint network, so you can use the data-only SIM card as long as there is a good T-Mobile signal in the US (or with any partner network in the 120 countries). If you are in the US and are in a location with no good T-Mobile signal but a good Sprint one, you can still tether or create a hotspot from your phone connected to Project Fi. That won’t cost you more money, since the data consumption is the same. It will only affect your battery life in the phone.

How to tell what network you’re using with Project Fi

Normally, when your phone connects to Project Fi, be it in the US or outside, it will only show the words Fi Network in the upper left hand corner. However, if you are curious and want to know when you are connected to a particular service (i.e. Sprint, T-Mobile, or another one in some other country) or even a particular band, there is a free Android app called SignalCheck Lite that will show you. That’s why I was able to be absolute certain when my Nexus 6 lost and then regained access to T-Mobile band 12 starting with Android version 6.01, as explained earlier in this article. Of course, I can also see when it connects to Sprint’s network. However, I must clarify that is only for very curious techies. For the general public, it’s just a huge blanket of reliable Project Fi coverage.

Link to save US$20

Using this link, you’ll get a US$20 credit and so will I after you sign up.

Conclusions

Ten of my clients and I absolutely love Project Fi for several reasons: in 120 countries, we don’t waste time searching and activating a foreign SIM card; we save money (in my case, I end up paying about US$25 plus tax, since I only use about 500MB using cellular data); we get improved connectivity (home and abroad) and increased flexibility since we can additionally make and receive phone calls on other device, without even having the phone or turned on.

For more information about Project Fi, visit fi.google.com.

Upcoming Project Fi & Nexus articles

Stand by for these upcoming articles:

  • Google Nexus 2015 camera sensors: larger than iPhone 6s Plus
  • Why Project Fi + Nexus beat any iPhone as a hotspot

The second one covers both general use and use for live video streaming, either with their internal camera, when connected to a professional camera, or the output of a video mixer.

Stand by for upcoming articles, reviews, and books. Sign up to my free mailing list by clicking here.

Si deseas suscribirte a mi lista en castellano, visita aquí. Si prefieres, puedes suscribirte a ambas listas (castellano e inglés).

Books, consulting, articles, seminars & radio programs

estandarte Capicua con cara y lema 605

 

Contact Allan Tépper for consulting, or find a full listing of his books, articles and upcoming seminars and webinars at AllanTepper.com. Listen to his CapicúaFM program at CapicúaFM.com in iTunes or Stitcher.

My latest book (paperback + ebook)

My most recent book is available in two languages, and in paperback as well as an ebook. The ebook format is Kindle, but even if you don’t have a Kindle device, you can read Kindle books on many other devices using a free Kindle app. That includes iPad, Android tablets, Mac computers, and Windows computers. Although generally speaking, Kindle books are readable on smartphones like Androids and iPhones, I don’t recommend it for this particular book since it contains both color photos and color comparison charts. The ebook is also DRM-free.

In English, it’s The Castilian Conspiracy. Click here and you will be automatically sent to the closest Amazon book page to you based upon your IP address. Or request ISBN–10: 1456310232 or ISBN–13: 978–1456310233 in your favorite local bookstore.

En castellano, se llama La conspiración del castellano. Haz clic aquí para llegar al instante a la página del libro correspondiente a tu zona y moneda en Amazon, según tu dirección IP. De lo contrario, solicítalo en tu librería preferida con los ISBN–10: 1492783390 ó el ISBN–13: 978–1492783398.

FTC disclosure

No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs.

Copyright and use of this article

The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalition magazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!

 


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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…

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ChaCubed
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ChaCubed

Google just switched my Voice account to Hangouts, so now I can’t just dial a number. Voice was perfect for me, a simple, no cost way to call. Not anymore.

Allan Tépper
Guest

Hi ChaCubed,
Thanks for reading and commenting. You can absolutely make phone calls to a number from Hangouts. However, if you are using Android, you must add a free “add-on” app to Hangouts to make it work. It’s called Hangouts Dialer and it’s free from the Android Play Store.

Allan Tépper

ChaCubed
Guest
ChaCubed

Thank you, Allen! I’ll do that on my Android phone, and I’ll check for an app for Chromebook.

Really appreciate it. It is infuriating when you can’t do one day what you could do the day before.

Allan Tépper
Guest

It’s Allan with an a (in my case).

On the ChromeBook, you can call directly from the Gmail page associated with your Google Voice Account.

Allan Tépper

ChaCubed
Guest
ChaCubed

*insert red face emoticon here* Sorry about misspelling your name.

I’ll check that out, Allan. Thanks again. 🙂

Aadira menon N
Guest

Hi,

Its a Great news ,Though its in a beta mode

Allan Tépper
Guest

Thanks for reading and commenting. It is no longer in beta, and you can now save US$20 by using the link http://fi.capicuafm.com.

Pyramidion Solutions
Guest

This article effectively sums up the aspects related to Project Fi which is aptly named as the son of Google Voice. Its voice mail aspect, the friendly data roaming facility, data-only sim card features among others are worth reading.

Devyroom
Guest

Excellent article. It perfectly reveals the essence of Project Fi and Google Voice. Of course, there are still many shortcomings, but I think in the near future they will be corrected.

Allan Tépper
Guest

Hi Devyroom,
Thanks for reading and commenting. This article is already quite old. I have published more updated ones you may want to see.

Allan Tépper

Smarther
Guest

Wonderful article Allan, Expecting these kinds of technology articles from your side.